The Complete Hymn
The play-over sets the tone entirely. Get this
wrong and much that follows will likely go wrong too.
The Play-over has to:
- Identify the tune,
- Set the style or mood,
- Set the pitch,
- Set the pace,
- Identify the exact moment when singing
You, Dear Organist, are the Orchestra and Conductor rolled into one!
If you have never done any conducting, you should to do
some training in this area. Even if you are professional, take some time
out to study conducting! It does not come naturally and I have seen many
an unprepared professional struggle,
especially in the world of Opera and Oratorio.
Looking at the details a bit
|Identify the tune
Conventionally this has meant playing the first two lines of the hymn;
it works vaguely some of the time but there are many complications regarding
other aspects of the play-over as outlined below. Yes, congregations do
know their hymns by the first lines, but in some instances you should be
looking at the chorus or refrain if there is one. This is sometimes much
- "Rejoice, rejoice" in O come, O come
- "Shine! Jesus, shine!" in Lord the
light of your love is shining
To help identify the tune, try soloing it on the Great,
or Choir if you have one; this helps to bring out the tune from the many
harmonics that organs sound. Also remember to shorten notes that will be
repeated immediately (see graphic). A succession of crotchets for example, should be
played as quavers with quaver rests between. Also remember, never couple
a solo manual to the pedals.
||Set the style
The play-over should be soft for the more reflective hymns but strong for a grand hymn.
Set the pitch
If you have a choir, the pitch set in most hymn books will
be fine. But always be sure that your congregation can reach
those high notes. The circumstances will matter. Jesus Christ is risen
today will sound fine in C in a large church on Easter Sunday; but
at a sunrise service in the open air, sung in A would be quite
Set the pace
This is a key part of getting your play-over right:
- Practice the exact speed beforehand;
- Get the pace in your head before starting;
- Just because you have a large church
building does not mean
it must be slower;
- Never use a rallentando to indicate that
your congregation should sing.
Supplementary notes on the pace of your hymns:
Do not ral. at the end of each verse; the hymn will get
slower and slower;
- Count rests fully; do not rush through them;
- Beware hymns in 3:4. They often
drag; see if the bars pair up into 6:8 to give
an easier feel to the music.
exact moment when singing should start
There is a lot here that does and does not work which is summarised in
the table below. You will need to explore this for yourself. But take a
look at some of the examples and try them out.
following does not work very well
Legato style - rhythm and pace
Rallentando - kills the pace - only use it at the end of a hymn
Pause and wait two beats of silence esp. if slow
tailored to each hymn
Finish play-over on last line if possible
Design to go straight in to verse or use an obvious bridge
Hymn Tune Structure
A crucial area for study here is
what the tune does; are parts of it repeated? In CAMBERWELL
the third line of the melody is the same as the first line for the first seven
notes, so your play-over can start there and run through to the
end very smoothly. Several hymns start like that.
There are many AABA hymns.
By this I mean the music for lines 1, 2 & 4 are identical or nearly
so. This will affect your play-over and how you piece together a bridge.
The Volume details these hymn structures where lines are repeated; use
this to help you design your play-over and bridge. A golden rule with
these appears to include: Do
not end your play-over before an "A" as there will be confusion
as to whether you are continuing the play-over or starting the verse. I
find the best way to play-over AABA tunes, for example, is usually
BA but sometimes
Here are two samples from
the Volume that help to illustrate the principles:
The first is MILES LANE with structure AB ACD. The play-over consists of
ACD which gives instant recognition of the tune (A) but brings it
quickly to a conclusion (CD) so congregation know that the singing is
about to start. Most organists play AB and that means confusion unless
something else takes place and all that is left is the pause or worse a
rallentando. Note the total absence of any pause or rallentando
anywhere in the play-over below. The setting below incorporates a short bridge -
the end of section B, and that works really well because that is
naturally followed by A so the congregation know exactly where to come in. When I
this variation it was perfect from the first note!
Play-over for MILES LANE illustrating first
and last lines.
Play-over for NUN DANKET illustrating a
fanfare style of start that leaves the singers in no doubt whatsoever!
There's an amusing post-script here: I used this tune with a different set
of words and the short play-over above. By the time my congregation realised
that I meant it, and it was not a mistake, they all missed the start!
(Having a choir might have helped.)
There may have been more
to that and I later wrote the second play-over which works well.
There are lots of
hymns on YouTube. One contributor took umbrage when I said that his
playing, while exciting perhaps, was not appropriate for a choir let
alone a congregation to sing to. You must make your playing steady
enough to set the pace and in particular get the timing right into
verses. We hope in time to video examples, good and bad, and make them
available for download.
So a general point here; if you publish, you will be
criticised and I expect that here. But the vast
majority of the arrangements work extremely well and mostly now I stick with
them making minor adjustments and refinements as I go.
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